ROBERT MOORE WILLIAMS
Robert Moore Williams was not a superstar of science fiction but he was a steady producer of adventure stories from the late 1930s to the early 1970s, both short stories and novels, many of the latter as Ace doublebooks. Moore got his start in the pulps and among his early works was a series that was quite clearly a copy of the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was quite prolific and had sold a couple of dozen stories by then, most of which are now nearly impossible to find. Although he wrote several novellas, he did not appear in book form until1955, after which he largely abandoned the magazines in favor of short novels. All except one, Walk Up the Sky, were paperback originals. His one hardcover was from Avalon and never had a paperback edition. One of his short western stories was the basis for an episode of the television series Sugarfoot.
Jongor of Lost Land (1940) is really just a novella, and in fact most of Williams' novels are quite short. The story opens with a small expedition consisting of Ann Hunter, her guide, and another man facing a revolt of their bearers in the wilds of Australia, although it feels so much like Africa that the setting seems incongruous. The bearers attack them after a mysterious voice that shakes the very ground orders them to do so, but they drive them off with the aid of a mysterious savage, Jongor, whom the third man unaccountably takes a shot at, driving him off. Hunter is there because her brother disappeared exploring the Lost Land and her companion is a cowardly type who seems to have deserted the missing man at a crucial moment. Jongor, on the other hand, is the son of a couple killed by local inhabitants following a plane crash and, like Tarzan, he has grown up in the wild. His real name is in fact John Gordon. He follows the diminished party and watches as they are attacked by pterodactyls after unwisely choosing a mountain pass. Jongor, who possesses an amulet that allows him to mentally control dinosaurs, uses one of them to rescue the party from the pterodactyls. He mentions the Muros, who apparently can send tornadoes to pursue their enemies. A disagreement arises within the party and Jongor leaves in a huff, but doesn't go far. They are captured by a race of monkey people from a ruined city who have airships similar to those on Barsoom. The leader of the monkey people finds Hunter attractive, which is part for the course though biologically nonsense. She is, however, to be sacrificed to the sung god. The companion gets involved with a power struggle among the Muros and in the aftermath Hunter escapes but becomes trapped between the Muros and pterodactyls. Jongor shows up in the nick of time and steals a crystal from the Muros that allows them to control the pterodactyls just as the amulet controls the other dinosaurs, which is all rather convenient. Jongor then reveals that he knows where Hunter's brother is, and provides no real explanation of why he didn't say anything sooner. The guide turns out to be a crazed anarchist. The story ends with the three survivors setting off for civilization. Although hardly a classic and with some relatively serious plot holes, this is a pretty good Burroughs pastiche. Williams was certainly a better writer than most of his contemporaries in the 1940s pulps. Minor glitch. Williams at this point believed that ventriloquists could literally throw their voices.
Jongor returned in, appropriately, The Return of Jongor (1944). The story picks up only hours after the first. Jongor intended to escort his two companions back to the outside world, but a message from the queen of the Arklans - whose existence has not been previously mentioned - distracts him. Ann and Alan Hunter are captured by cannibals who already have two prisoners, Morton and Schiller. Jongor rescues them with the aid of a controlled dinosaur, then tells him that he feels obligated to help Queen Nesca resist attacks by the Muros Jongor routed in the first book. They all agree to go with him, but the two new characters clearly have a secret agenda. There is a party of Muros in the area, accompanied by a centaur, the product of ancient Murian genetic technology. This time it turns out that the Muros have a device that allows them to influence the minds of humans and they lure Ann out of the encampment and capture her. She subsequently escapes on her own, after learning that the message that started the current chain of events was a fake. The whole party ends up in the city of the Arklans, who all turn out to be centaurs, but the schemer who tried to trap Jongor has bribed the populace into overthrowing and killing their queen. Despite his best efforts, Jongor cannot save the queen, who decides that her people are doomed. The city collapses as the humans escape - minus Schiller, who was a treasure hunter and who betrayed them, and Morton, whom Schiller murdered. The presumption is that the centaur people will now die out. This is far inferior to the first story. The plot makes little sense. Why don't the Murians use the crystal on Jongor? If Jongor knew of their powers, why didn't he caution his companions? What are lions doing in Australia? How does Ann suddenly understand the Murian language?
The third and final Jongor novel was Jongor Fights Back! (1951) opens with our three heroes still trying to escape from Lost Land. They are promptly attacked by the Muros, except that Williams forgot their name and calls them Murtos this time. Jongor escapes for Ann and Alan are captured once again. Jongor receives a glancing blow on the head during the fight which causes partial amnesia; he doesn't remember the Hunters and therefore feels no urge to rescue them. Then he encounters two American hunters camped in the area - Lost Land sure doesn't seem to be very lost. The Americans are villains searching for the Murto city and they take Jongor captive when he refuses to guide them there. The Murtos are even stupider than usual and they really aren't an effective enemy for Jongor because they are so easily fooled. Both Jongor and the Hunters escape separately but both are pursued and the Hunters get separated. Williams seems also to have forgotten that the Hunters used rifles against the Murtos earlier because the monkey men are stunned when the two Americans demonstrate their use. Jongor gets his memory back, and the girl and her brother. The bad guys of both camps are thoroughly defeated. This is the weakest of the three, does nothing to advance the story, and shows strong evidence of having been hastily written.
Williams did not confine himself to writing about Jongor during the early part of his career. Survivors from 9000 B.C. (1941) opens with Don King, who periodically suffers attacks in which he remembers events from the distant past, and who occasionally feels a long dead personality supplanting his control of his own body. After encountering another man suffering from the same condition, he consults a psychiatrist who suggests that he is reincarnated from a past life. The two troubled men are drawn to board a sailing ship bound for the Azores, but the ship is attacked by a giant robot octopus directed by a mysterious vessel. They are the only survivors and are taken to a hidden island whose ruler is King's apparent twin. King realizes that he is reincarnated, but from a man who has traveled through time. The entire island, part of Atlantis, was moved forward to escape a natural disaster. The ruler, however, fears the presence of his duplicate and has him imprisoned where he is befriended by the inevitable local woman not in sympathy with the cruel tyrant. She helps them escape using a cloak of invisibility created by a caste of scientists now believed extinct and there are several battles and escapes before the evil ruler uses telepath to control King and nearly kill them all. It's not clear why he didn't do this sooner. At the last minute, the supposedly extinct scientists reappear, sever the telepathic bond, and there's more fighting, a brief chase, and King finally outsmarts the ruler and takes his placer. This feels almost like fantasy a good deal of the time and the plot and writing are occasionally crude, but it's readable.
To Watch by Night (1946) is an aliens among us story. Don Reed sees a man attempt to shoot a woman, after which both vanish into thin air. He recognizes the woman as a fellow reporter named Nita Ayers with whom he is in love but when he confronts her later she denies everything. Then news arrives concerning a naked man found in a field and for no discernible reason she immediately faints. She is assigned to cover the story and he insists on accompanying her, both rather implausible circumstances because the story is too minor to send one major reporter on an extended trip to cover it, let alone allow a second to go along as well. The naked man wore only a bracelet that is a match for one that Ayers is wearing. He also sees a dog run from something invisible and then die after something unseen stabs it through the heart. Ayers is oddly reluctant to interview the mystery man, who doesn't speak English anyway, so Reed goes to see him alone. Right after he leaves, Ayers enters the cell and the young man is mortally wounded. Although she is arrested, Reed believes her innocent and in a weak moment she makes allusions to a hidden world, the Dark Ones, and an invisible creature that murdered the young man. Then she refuses to explain any further, insisting that it is for Reed's protection that she remains silent. She promptly disappears from her cell as well and after a few days only Reed is still interested. He runs an ad in the newspaper which is answered by a note from Ayers and a bracelet. He then narrowly escapes being killed by Harker, who appears originally to be just a crackpot, but who turns out to be a powerful enemy. Fortunes go back and forth for a while and finally Reed is able to turn the tales on Harker, who turns out to be an agent for an ancient intelligence, presumably the Devil, although no name is ever used and there is an attempt to rationalize everything. It's a blend of Lovecraft, Christian mythology, and superscience and despite occasional rough spots, above average for the pulps.
The Huntress of Akkan (1946) was obviously influence by Talbot Mundy. Two Americans go to Burma to find a missing friend. He turns up, babbles about a mysterious temple and a trip to Heaven, then is killed by a floating ball that burns a hole through his body. They in turn are taken prisoner and forced to pass through a kind of dimensional portal into a world where hunting is the ultimate pleasure and humans are the most desirable prey. The newcomers find a small colony of displaced humans who are trying to puzzle out the advanced technology of their captors. They volunteer to sneak into the alien city and steal some of the floating balls, which can be directed by thought waves. Instead he confronts the local princess and within minutes has talked her into divesting herself of her technology, after which she falls tearfully into his arms. She takes him to her decadent city where he quickly talks her into outlawing hunting and organizing an effort to rebuild their civilization, but naturally there is a contingent who are unwilling to accept the changed state of affairs. The first half of this one is a fairly good adventure story but it deteriorates steadily from the point where the two of them meet and never recovers.
The Bees of Death (1949) opens with a confidence man finding an enigmatic but still functioning device that was buried ages previously by a glacier. It then jumps forward and introduces George Graham, a private detective who specializes in debunking fake mediums and similar schemes. He is hired by the daughter of a very rich man to find out what has recently made him so nervous and mysterious. The con man, Featherstone, allows Graham to attend a "seance" in which a translucent flying object that sounds like a giant bee kills and petrifies a small dog. It is obvious to Graham that Featherstone himself is frightened. That night there are reports of buzzing sounds at Graham's apartment building, so he goes into hiding. His next step is to investigate reports of a petrified cow, which leads him to Featherstone's country home, where a strange addition is being made to the main building. He and his client eventually confront Featherstone, who admits that he has become the pawn of an ancient alien brain, the drall, which uses the buzzing creatures to exert its will. They plot to destroy the drall but it is telepathic and instead turns them into virtual slaves. During a military assault against the building, the power is cut and the humans are able to incapacitate the drall, which they keep alive so that they can extract its knowledge. The end is a bit weak but not mortally.
Beyond the Rings of Saturn (1951) must have been written on a bad day. The prose is clunky and repetitive and the plot is riddled with small holes. Crane, the protagonist, is a secret agent aboard a patrol ship whose job is to investigate reports of attacks by a strange apparition that materializes inside ships. Initially he has no idea what to expect but later we learn that there have been numerous reports describing the phenomenon accurately, which contradicts the original statement. Saturn, we discover, is a rainy planet inhabited by intelligent alligators whose violent society has been subjugated by humans, who now dictate local laws. A female spy is interviewing one of the locals when he spontaneously reveals the entire plan for rebellion, even shows her a secret military base, and reveals a previously undisplayed power of mental control. There's no explanation for why the Saturnian would reveal the secret and then abduct her. Meanwhile, Crane's ship is disabled and has to crashland on the planet after one of the silliest scenes in all of science fiction wherein the agent, the captain, and the executive officer all act inexplicably. Immediately after the crash, the female spy breaks free and runs toward them and they are astounded to see a human woman - which makes no sense since they are within sight of a large human base. Then we are told that the government knows about the Saturian mental abilities because of past incidents, even though we were previously told otherwise. The male agent has a hand weapon that causes enormous explosions, but at one point he considers using it on the bridge of a spaceship! They escape from the Saturnians but Crane is immediately put in charge of a military operation against the apparitions, who are another alien race whose ship is disguised to look like an asteroid. The Saturnians have a sudden, inexplicable change of heart and help fight the mysterious aliens. This is an astonishingly bad story, not even remotely up to the author's usual modest standards.
Conquest of the Space Sea (1955) was his first appearance in book form. Jed Ambro is assigned to the large human base on Pluto which is preparing to launch robotically controlled spaceships into the void beyond the solar system. While working with one of the robot pilot, Jed spots an alien spaceship and starts to report it, but he is hypnotized telepathically and loses all memory of the encounter. Ambro is summoned to the private dome of Konar, a mysterious, powerful, and unsavory character. For no apparent reason and without conscious volition, Ambro tries unsuccessfully to kill him. Hours later, he emerges with no memory of anything that happened during the interview. He is then questioned by a senior technician who appears to know more than he lets on, during the course of which conversation the experimental robot apparently becomes self aware and resistant to orders it does not wish to obey. Before anything can be made of that, the mysterious ship reappears outside the dome, refuses to communicate, and is fired upon by the base's military personnel. The ship has a crew of three humanoids from a far system. They believe themselves inherently superior to humans, who think differently because of a warp in space that encompasses the solar system. One of their kind has been living secretly among humans for three centuries, but we are not told who he or she is. When their captain tries to communicate telepathically with his homeworld, some nearby intelligence warns him off and burns out the telepathic portion of his brain. Williams starts to throw in one device after another. Ambro's will is taken over by the aliens, who use him to suppress the will of other people at the base. Konar tries to control him for his own purposes. A supposedly benevolent and idiosyncratic old engineer reveals an agenda of his own. The middle of the novel begins to feel more like A.E. van Vogt. The aliens come across as comic book villains, not very bright despite their technology, and with the emotional level of disturbed children. With the aid of the alien spy, who has gone native, the human prisoners seize control of the alien ship. The closing chapters are particularly badly written, unfortunately.
The Chaos Fighters (1955) opens with a mildly psychic agent of the Planetary Government named Haldane observing a young woman shrink down to doll size and then disappear after visiting a shop which he has been ordered to investigate. He is subsequently captured himself and wakens in a room accompanied only by his childhood friend, Pete Balkan, who is also a prisoner. They communicate by means of a personal code and the friend indicates that he has become aware of some major forces at work in the solar system, at least three organizations in a power struggle and perhaps a superhuman intelligence whose purposes are unknown. He is questioned about the girl who vanished, then rescued by his old friend, who escapes apparently with the help of the superhuman intelligence, which he calls the Random Factor. Our hero is then sent to a high society social party which his superiors think might be a chance to discover something about Group C. Group B, which was responsible for his capture, seems to have been eliminated as its leader is found dead from causes unknown. There he runs into the mysterious disappearing woman, who introduces herself as Heather. There his hostess shrinks down and disappears, leaving her jewelry behind, although she conveniently does take her clothing. Heather then unaccountably babbles about an invention that makes these disappearances possible, then pleads hysteria when she realizes she has let something slip to Haldane. This is a particularly unconvincing scene, unfortunately. Haldane pretends to be convinced but a few seconds later reveals that he saw her disappear similarly, which makes his previous action inexplicable. Haldane is captured again, but this time he is the one who shrinks and he suddenly finds himself on the moon. He spends several days there in the company of a group of young people who claim to be working in a mine but who have speculative discussions about the power of the mind to shape the future. Then Heather shows up, and her motives are suspect. Hot on her heels is a gang of bad guys, who are defeated by Haldane with an assist from the local leader's mental powers. They round up the chief villain and announce that a new era in the future of humanity is to start based on several recent discoveries both technical and mental. The story is hardly a classic. Williams uses the Balkan character to tell us what's going on behind the scenes based on his observations, but actually just pulled out of thin air. The Random Factor interferes primarily to keep the plot going and is never really explained. The whole story feels heavily contrived and the author's hand is always in sight. There's also a supercomputer called J used by the Planetary Government which provides useful information in circumstances where it could not possibly have that information, but fails to provide obvious information in other instances in order not to make it too easy for the heroes. As with the previous book, this seems very derivative of A.E. van Vogt, with various psychic powers and a plot switch every few pages.
Williams' next novel was Doomsday Eve (1957) and takes place as a new world war is raging. Some of the soldiers on both sides report miraculous rescues and escapes at the hands of the "new people", apparent humans who can teleport to anyplace they want, manipulate equipment even when the power is off, and cure serious wounds in seconds. The government would very much like to interview one of the new people but they are elusive. Intelligence officer Kurt Zen thinks that one of the nurses working in the field may be one of them, but while he is investigating he has a moment in which he seems to have communed with a kind of racial consciousness. He follows the nurse into a wilderness area where they are both captured by a band of army deserters. They escape when a mysterious power causes their captors to fall asleep. Zen learns that he himself is one of the new people - mutants - and he is taken to a secret underground base where they are training themselves in various ways. After a prolonged ideological argument - the leader of the new people sees no reason to help either side in the war because he views war as a form of natural selection - the base is attacked by enemy paratroopers. Echoing a scene in The Chaos Fighters, the underground base has no arms of its own with which to resist. They are captured but eventually most are teleported out of danger. They then sabotage an enemy doomsday machine and presumably the war grinds to a stop, though we never actually see that. The new people seem strangely forgetful about their own powers until they are reminded by our hero. Not very good at all. The pervasive juvenile misogyny common to early SF is particularly pervasive in the relationship between the two main characters and the plot relies rather heavily on coincidences. Once again the van Vogtian superman dominates events. Zen isn't quite Gilbert Gosseyn but he is clearly moving in that direction.
The Blue Atom (1958) was bound with a collection of short stories, The Void Beyond. It opens with a series of disappearances and odd sightings involving a glass door that materializes apparently at random emitting a hypnotic blue light. The incidents occur in space and on planetary surfaces all through the solar system. An unofficial group of men who police things away from Earth meets to consider the problem - all male, of course, since women are considered inferior on the frontier. Williams makes this point repeatedly in his stories, although often adding in a competent, even aggressive woman to undercut the premise. In this case she's an archaeologist who tells the council that there is evidence of the existence of a now extinct Earth based race that preceded humans, conquered space, and created the ultimate weapon, which has been rediscovered and is now being tested. Before she can finish her story, the blue glow engulfs her and she disappears into thin air. The leader of the council survives two attempts on his life by a Venusian native, whom he takes prisoner, but the captive subsequently disappears in another flash of blue light. Rather implausibly, no one other than the missing woman knows anything about the ancient race and her records are missing. Then the woman reappears, apparently under mental control by someone claiming to be the last scientist of the ancient race. She/he insists that his people are still alive and that a despotic ruler has been wakened from an age long sleep. The woman then reverts to her own personality and has no memory of what happened after she was taken from the conference room. An attempt to kidnap the protagonist by means of the blue light is thwarted when the woman remembers that she was given a device that neutralizes its effect. She also remembers that other race is living in a hidden city inside Mercury, so that's where they go next. The last few chapters go downhill rapidly. There are only two surviving members of the older race in a deserted city filled with killer apes. The scientist knows his ruler is evil but even when he has control of the blue atom, he won't sabotage it or use it against the ruler - but he will tell the humans about it so that they can. None of this makes the slightest bit of sense. One of the humans tries to help the evil ruler but the protagonist and his friends prevail in a not particularly exciting ending. This was the weakest of the author's Ace Double appearances.
The Void Beyond (1958) includes six short stories. The title story is interesting because it presents a chauvinistic situation but resolves it in the opposite direction. Space travel is found to bring enervating nausea that cannot be alleviated. Males find it very unpleasant but females almost always die during the experience. When a woman shows up to board a flight to Pluto, the captain refuses to take her but she stows away and eventually reveals that she is a scientist testing a new anti-nausea drug, which in fact works. There's a small crisis involving a meteorite. It seemed improbable that the drug test would be set up without the captain's knowledge and on a long rather than short flight, but otherwise the story is not bad at all. "Refuge for Tonight" is not nearly as good. The US has been depopulated by a bacteriological weapon and invaded. A few refugees find a remote bunker which they think holds nuclear weapons, but it turns out to be a bacteriology lab concealing the existence of a working starship. Only one person knew about the ship and he suffers from amnesia until sight of the hero, his assistant years earlier, restores his memory. Very contrived. "The Challenge" involves first contact with an enigmatic alien race which invented a device that computes all possible consequences of any action, leaving them with no sense of challenge, a deep and gnawing fatalism, and thwarted ambition. The humans introduce a variable that interferes with the calculations and the population destroys all of the calculators.
"The Weapon" is rather silly. Earth has been peaceful for centuries when an aggressive alien race shows up and demands surrender. A group of resisters know that an ultimate weapon existed which has been lost, so they go to a museum and find it in a display case! It telepathically transmits fear into its target. They build multiple copies overnight and seize control of the alien fleet. Humdrum. So is the very short "The Stubborn Men," which really has no plot. An experiment with atomic research kills one man but his brother is determined to continue. Finally there is "The Final Frontier." Williams frequently refers to outer space in these terms, or describes it as an enormous ocean, a metaphor common in the genre. The title is rather inappropriate here, however. A Martian astrally projects himself to rescue a human friend from some thugs. Their target invented a revolutionary new space drive, the plans of which he intends to make public, but it's never explained why he didn't do that previously to keep the thugs from following him to his secret Martian retreat. The prose in all these stories is competent and unexceptional, but the plots are sometimes poorly thought out.
World of the Masterminds (1960) was also bound with a short story collection, To the End of Time. Burke Hartford has traveled to Pluto in search of a mysterious hidden race, or group of races, who manifest themselves as Martians, Venusians, or humans as needed. The primitive inhabitants of Pluto are divided into the green and blue races and they look to this mysterious organization for mediation of their conflicts. Also interested is Cyrus Holm, head of a major interplanetary corporation, whose methods for obtaining information frequently fall outside the law. When a mediator turns up armed with a mysterious staff of power, Holm's minions try to kidnap him but - with the help of Hartford and two friends - the attempt fails. Hartford's friend Teller then explains his theory that Race X lives hidden on Pluto and has been intervening in the affairs of the other planets since prehistory, training humans like the current mediator, Einer, without revealing themselves. The female character is too naive to be plausible and inadvertently gives away their location to more of Holm's people. The threesome are capture - Einer is killed in the second attack - but it's not clear why since they don't know anything more than Holm does. Unaccountably, since the bad guys have been listening to their conversation all along, Micki is allowed the freedom of the ship where they are taken while the two men are locked up. Eventually she rescues them - even though we've been told that action is no job for a woman - but in a sequence that doesn't work logically. Even after showing her hand by stealing the power staff, knocking out the chief henchman, and setting them free, she continues to avoid saying anything incriminating because the room is bugged. But she has already verbally committed herself in that same room. They land on Pluto again, using Einer's staff as a guide, and encounter a couple of glowing light globes that appear to be alive. They eventually are ushered into an underground installation where they meet Einer's twin brother and see a spaceship obviously not intended for human operation. Williams gets somewhat confused here because he rhapsodizes that this means that humans are not the only intelligent beings in the universe. Apparently he has forgotten that his story includes intelligent Martians, Venusians, Plutonians, and Jovians. The villains show up and once again Williams treats us to a scene where men with guns massacre a hidden colony of unarmed pacifists. Hartford sneaks out, recruits a small army of blue Plutonians, arms them all with modern weapons - one wonders why he would have such a large arsenal aboard his small spaceship - and routs the enemy. Race X, the glowing balls of light, explain that humanity is now mature enough not to need guidance. This wasn;t a bad story, but the villains are too over the top and there are numerous plot elements that were not thought out sufficiently.
To the End of Time and Other Stories (1960) consists of five stories. The title story involves a small tribe of Venusians who secretly possess technology that allows them to exile their enemies into the distant future. "Where Tall Towers Gleam" is a kind of cryptic fantasy in which two children briefly visit a beautiful city that promptly disappears and which is probably meant as an analogy for heaven. It's not only very minor but contains several topical references that won't make sense to most younger readers, e.g. saying someone talks like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. In "Homeward Bound" two men arguing about the existence of Martian spies on Earth discover that both of them are in fact Martian spies. "When the Spoilers Came" involves a group of humans who arrive at an apparently primitive Martian city to exploit the natives, only to be thwarted by hidden technology. The last minute conversion of one of the characters to the good side is not believable. "Like Alarm Bells Ringing" is the weakest story. A super-race watches over Earth and is surprised when the human race survives near extinction in war. Overall a very minor collection.
Tom Watkins is one of the survivors on The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles (1961), after three hydrogen bombs detonated without warning. He waits in a shelter where he encounters an FBI agent who tells him that the area had been flooded with investigators recently, but that no one knew exactly what they were looking for. The agent speculates that it is some inhuman force and reveals that a number of agents have been found mysteriously dead or hopelessly insane. When the bombing ends, he and several others try to evacuate the city only to discover that it is ringed with American troops who fire on anyone who tries to leave without taking a physical examination for some unspecified contamination. They return to the city and take shelter in the laboratory of Dr. Homer Smith, who has been working for the government but who does not know what the menace was. The FBI agent believes that the US government dropped the bombs. They start hearing people screaming elsewhere in the city and conclude that the bombing did not eliminate the mysterious threat - but that makes no sense since they know that there is looting and murder going on all around them. Then they learn that many of the survivors are becoming mindless zombies - yes, this is the very first zombie apocalypse novel. But after a couple of days they partially recover, and apparently women are affected differently than men. The horde is all male except that it is commanded by a woman. Dr. Smith finds a cure for the "mad molecule", a mutated protein that becomes intelligent and takes over control of human bodies, and they are rescued by an army strike team just as they are about to be overwhelmed. There is a major plot hole that undercuts what might have been an interesting premise. If it is possible to cordon off the city after the bombs and examine everyone, why wasn't this done without dropping the bombs in the first place?
The Darkness Before Tomorrow (1962) opens with a prologue about aliens secreting monitoring the Earth, then moves to a terribly written scene in which a man finds a woman who has been run over by a vehicle. Her dying words go on for pages and read like a speech. The man, Gillian, is a secret agent who soon finds himself accompanying a strange brother and sister who tell him about a gangster armed with a weapon that causes heart failure. The sister has unreliable telepathic powers. The story is a mess right from the outset. The sister has mentally eavesdropped on someone - human or otherwise - building a hand held death ray and she has a diagram made from memory. They have a friend who works for the gangster and recruit him to spy on his boss in one of the worst written scenes in all of literature. Williams does not seem to have given any thought to the plot at all and as a result it is nearly incoherent. The sister also has a map that belonged to her father with a mountain circled in red. Might that have something to do with the plot? They assume so, despite a complete lack of anything indicating their father even knew about the alien weapons. They fly to the mountain in a helicopter and immediately find a secret base and see a ship made of "condensed light," whatever that means. The ship rushes past them in a split second but they are able to detect the color of the pilot's eyes and determine he's an alien. Then they are captured by the gangster, who is after the plans, even though there's no way that he could have known about them. He tortures our hero by putting him in an almost completely silent room which, we are told, will inevitably drive him crazy. Apparently Williams never heard of deafness. Nor does soundproofing prevent sounds from originating inside the room so our hero merely has to clap his hands to hear sound. They are kidnapped by the aliens and brought back to the hidden base, which has been taken over by the gangster despite there having been no way that he could have learned of its existence. The aliens, implausibly, come from Mercury. The aliens are stimulating human development because they need help averting a cosmic collision generations in the future. The bad guy gets thwarted. Thoroughly bad. Williams forgets that characters know things and they express surprise when they learn it again. On other occasions they perceive things that they could not possibly have figured out from the evidence available. This one was probably dashed off in a hurry and never revised. The telepathy works when it is convenient for the plot and doesn't work when it is not. Williams was never a brilliant writer but this one is inexcusable.
Walk Up the Sky (1962) was Williams' only hardcover novel. Thal Parker is an Earthman on Venus - a jungle planet - who has struck up a friendship of sorts with an oversized, intelligent snake. He rushes to the rescue when a spaceship crashes near his trading post and finds the man he would most like to kill, Sam Helder, is among the survivors. There is also a young woman whom he doesn't know but who insists she came to Venus specifically to find him. Parker is seriously injured and has to be restored by transfer of various life energies from the snake and the woman into his body in one of the sillier sequences I've ever read. Helder has come to coerce Parker into revealing the secret of an invention which supposedly cures people of various diseases, but Parker insists that the machine only works if stimulated mentally by Parker himself, because of an abnormality in his brain. However, the young woman says that one of his devices cured her of cancer despite his absence. They also see an apparition of a man walking through the sky overhead and then the wrecked spaceship levitates. It turns out that there is a secret human race with advanced technology hidden on Venus and that Parker is one of them, sent to Earth to gather intelligence, where he suffered a memory loss and forgot his origin. He recovers his memory and learns that his original people are planning to attack Earth. With the aid of a renegade scientist, he thwarts the invasion and ends up with the human girl. Most of his paperback originals were better than this.
King of the Fourth Planet (1962) is set on Mars, whose inhabitants are assumed to be decadent by the boisterous Earthmen. The center of their civilization is a mountain artificially carved into seven terraces. The level of civilization is higher as one ascends. John Rolf is a frustrated human who has come to the fourth level to work on his prize invention, a thought reading machine, which he hopes will cause humanity to become more open, honest, and honorable. His researchers are interrupted by the arrival of a contingent from a commercial organization which is known for its shady dealings. Among their pressure tactics is the presence of Rolf's grown daughter among them, a kind of indentured servant. We also learn that Rolf was once president of this very company and that he resigned when he realized that he had helped create a monster. The daughter is kidnapped and Rolf uses his machine to disembody himself, but in his immaterial state, he loses interest in the material world. He still observes, however, and sees that the Earthmen have organized an attack on the mountain, intending to steal its secrets. He also helps his daughter escape despite the risk of staying away from his body for so long. The humans launch a major attack on the mountain using savage Martians as storm troopers. Rolf and the others moved toward the top level where the possibly mythical King of Mars is supposed to live, although no one seems to have ever seen him. Not surprisingly, the blind Martian beggar who appears early in the novel turns out to be the king. There's a confrontation and the king reveals his ability to control matter down to the atomic level through force of will. The bad guys are thwarted and the crisis is averted. Quite slow moving despite the melodrama.
Flight from Yesterday (1962) is also rather minor. Keth Ard is unemployed in part because he has visions of a time and place that didn't exist, another life almost as real as his present one. He answers an advertisement placed by a curio shop and arrives just in time to rescue a young woman - who also has memories of a past life - from a gang of strange men and women, who seem to be possessed by other personalities and who have a heat weapon never seen before. They also begin seeing another man who appears and disappears at odd moments, never saying anything and apparently not entirely physically present. They take shelter after the initial attack with a psychiatrist, who spends much of the first half of the book speculating rather trivially about the nature of the universe and the human condition. Williams also clearly doesn't understand how a psychologist would work. They survive another attack, this time a building which explodes just after they leave, and go into hiding. The woman's brother had previously answered the ad, disappeared, and left behind an ancient carved stone with which she experiments, resulting in her being trapped in a comatose state. Our hero follows her into the trance state and they both find themselves in ancient Atlantis, while the doctor has to battle with the possessed minions in the present. The tyrant from the past is finally foiled by time traveling priests from his own era. Surprisingly little actually happens in this slow moving story. The mechanism by which they transcend time is clearly magic which makes this Williams' first fantasy novel. It's also another story where the protagonist can tell all sorts of detailed things about a person just by looking at their eyes,
The Star Wasps (1963) is set in a dystopian society ruled by the Super Corporation. It opens with an encounter between the hero - John Derek - and a young woman, and it is illustrative of the thinly veiled misogyny in much of the author's work. Although his female protagonists are generally quite strong, they all accept their inherent inferiority. "Perhaps freedom is not something a woman can really and truly have except in a relationship with a great man. The very nature of her sex makes real freedom difficult for her." He is about to brush her off when she reveals that she two can see the virals, sparkles of light that hover in the air and which the hero asserts can suck the life from a human being. He can see them because he spent several months training himself to see in a higher spectrum so that he could - although we are never told what led him to think that this would accomplish anything. Also, since the bad virals are blue and the good ones green, they are obviously not in the invisible spectrum anyway. Derek is the leader of an informal underground movement and he is surprised to find that the man who originally discovered the virals, Joseph Cotter, has been looking for him. Cotter is on the run from the president of Super Corporation and describes his physical appearance, even though we have previously been told that no one except a few intimates has ever seen him or even knows his name. Cotter announces that he introduced the virals to Earth by essentially distilling them from starbeams - whatever those are - from their home planet, but that they were stolen by Super Corporation thugs. The executive sends his chief thug to the bar where Derek has his headquarters, and Derek illogically goes to some effort to disguise the fact that he's even known there despite conclusive evidence that the bad guys already know this. Nor do we ever find out why the chief villain is terrified by a plain glass ball. They meet and he tells Derek that the virals are no longer responding to their controls and sure enough they begin attacking and killing people at random. It turns out that the glass sphere generates a radiation that creates a desire for freedom, so Derek is technically responsible for their rebellion. The news services won't talk about the story because, we are told, it is in their best interest not to, but there is no explanation of why this is true. The villain insists that he has never broken the law, just used them to his advantage, and Derek agrees, but we've previously been told that he is responsible for a number of murders. Derek and his party steal a spaceship with ridiculous ease and head to the moon where Cotter is trying to find a solution to the virals. Since we've been told that virals only live for thirty days and there is no longer anyone breeding them, they could just as easily have waited for them all to die. And army majors do not take uncorroborated orders from corporals. Cotter manages to get some green virals and the world is saved.
This was so carelessly written that the plot literally makes no sense at times. Although we're told that this future world has suppressed individual freedom and turned everyone into slaves, it appears from the background Williams provides that people are pretty much just as free as they are today. The author makes presents other assertions as obviously true even though they are not, doesn't explain his wonders, misunderstands physical laws, and presents his characters as awkward stereotypes who act like self contradictory puppets. Among other things, if the world is so completely controlled, how is it that Derek and his men openly operate a spaceship to their secret base on the moon? The characters frequently gives speeches filled with nonsensical phrases like "Somewhere, in some infinity, in some frequency range, men will grow up!" There are other times when it is impossible to tell who is speaking a particular line of dialogue. This isn't as well written as the Jongor stories he wrote twenty years earlier.
The Lunar Eye (1964) opens at a gas station near an American moon project. The proprietor discovers that he is actually one of several agents from an extraterrestrial power attempting to delay the launch. He is attacked by one of his fellow agents and befriended by another, who claims that she has been trying to break away from her boss, the assailant. She explains that he was brought to Earth as an infant from a secret civilization on the far side of the moon and given to unsuspecting human parents to raise. He was supposed to awaken to his true identity during early adolescence but didn't - and one has to wonder how he could do so if he was newborn when he arrived. The moon people, or Tuanthans, migrated there from Earth in the distant past. She justifies their reluctance to allow human exploration by analogy to Europeans coming to America, but the comparison is bogus since the Tuanthans have a superior rather than inferior technology. He escapes and runs into his "brother", who has been missing for moths and claims to have been on the moon. We then switch attention to the brother for a while as he implausibly tries to see the base commander and convince him to halt the project. Then the Russians launch a moonship, which is destroyed by unknown means before it reaches its goal. The Tuanthans aren't too brilliant, though; they give each other messages by writing encoded scripts on the walls of rest rooms. As further evidence that the Tuanthans are villains, they have "evolved" past the point where they fall in love, although the female protagonist obviously has done so. Our hero pretends to awaken in a logically impossible sequence in which he imagines that his life on Earth was a dream, which is nonsense because he would obviously have no memories of having lived on the moon. Then he reveals that he did remember his Tuanthan heritage years earlier, which contradicts what we know of his thoughts during the early chapters of the book. The author seems to have completely forgotten the first third of the novel because he starts talking about how the protagonist chose to become an agent on Earth. In the womb perhaps? Everything is resolved when one man runs an extraordinarily implausible bluff. Williams never does explain why the brother was abducted to the moon, or how he escaped, or how he figured out where and when the next trip from Earth was scheduled. Nor does he tell us how the protagonist, who has never heard the Tuanthan language spoken before, goes from not understanding it one day to understanding it perfectly a few days later. His misogyny also rears its head. "She is a woman. She obviously doesn't know her own mind." There is also an interlude with a telepath that has no relevance to the rest of the plot and was probably added to beef up the word count. This was his last Ace Double and next to last title for that imprint.
The Second Atlantis (1965) was the last book Williams published with Ace. It's a very short disaster novel about the Big One, the earthquake that destroys California. Following the usual pattern of such novels, it jumps from character to character for short sketches about the disaster, and many of the characters only survive for a couple of pages. Among the characters is a conman prophet who has some genuine psychic powers and who may be a reincarnation of someone who lived in lost Atlantis. Others include a typical family man, a vicious gangster, a spoiled playboy, and a homeless alcoholic. Most of them end up dead. There is only a whisper of a plot as most of the book consists of descriptions of the destruction - the earthquake followed by fires followed by a subsidence that leaves Los Angeles underwater, interspersed with occasionally silly speeches about human destiny. The reincarnation theme contributes nothing at all to the plot except perhaps to justify the title. Despite these cavils, this was one of the author's better written works, though less imaginative.
Zanthar of the Many Worlds (1967) was the first in a series of four. John Zanthar is a brilliant physicist who disappears while standing beside a cyclotron holding a copper hammer. He materializes in a primitive world clearly in the tradition of the Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, where people ride eight legged sabre toothed tigers, or their equivalent. Just after meeting some of the local humans, who think he's a god, he is attacked by humanoids riding small dinosaurs. During the battle he discovers that he has extraordinary strength and can kill the dinosaurs with one blow of his hammer. The obvious parallel to Thor and his hammer is pretty obvious. Zanthar realizes then that his academic life was shallow and unfulfilled and that he only really lives when he is killing things. Meanwhile, back on Earth, we are introduced to Fu Cong, a brilliant but twisted man who hates the world and lives in a remote Tibetan monastery reputed to be the storehouse of ancient knowledge. Zanthar is captured by his enemies while Fu Cong, who wants the secret of teleportation, kidnaps his two young assistants back on Earth. Both parts of the story quickly become silly. Zanthar learns to speak at least two different languages fluently within a few minutes thanks to his superior intelligence. Fu Cong, on the other hand, despite having studied all branches of knowledge from the outside world, thinks that Americans take multiple wives and does not understand common mathematical symbols. Zanthar is captured by rat men and can only gain his freedom by curing the king of a mysterious disease. Fu Con's mountain retreat sits on some kind of mystical, pseudo-scientific nexus so that natural laws aren't consistent. The two assistants figure out what happened to Zanthar and escape Fu Cong by going through the same transference process. Zanthar leads a revolt against the rat men and their corrupt ruler. Fu Cong follows them, becomes leader of the rat men, is defeated by Zanthar, and returns to Earth. Zanthar and friends follow him and that's the end of the opening volume. It's a badly written Burroughs pastiche.
Vigilante 21st Century (1967) has the same troubling view of vigilantes that we often see today. The police are outgunned by the villains so a handful of citizens decides to take law enforcement into their own hands. Our vigilante protagonist sounds like a nutcase; he's convinced that some intelligence is directing human destiny and that he has been chosen to help steer civilization back in a positive direction by eliminating criminals extra-legally. And this is George Bright, the hero! Williams also embraced the man as killer ape theory, which has been thoroughly refuted since but which was still popular in the 1960s. Bright survives an assassination attempt by an involuntary killer virtually enslaved by a criminal organization equipped with super weapons. The assassin, a beautiful woman of course, gives him inside information about the organization she formerly worked for while he regales her with lectures about how evil and brutal the human race is. She also says that she "forgot" to assassinate him but doesn't know why, and he says it was the force that protects humanity intervening. The mysticism at this point is so hokey that one could almost call this fantasy rather than science fiction. The bulk of the book alternates between low key battles against villains whose weaponry is essentially magic and lectures about human destiny. Although Williams had never been a particularly impressive writer, his decline following his departure from Ace books is dramatic.
Zanthar at the Edge of Never (1968) continued Williams' self destruction as a writer. Strange creatures begin appearing in fog banks from which they assemble larger creatures from time to time, biting limbs off people they encounter. In addition to the very silly opening scenes and some awkward phrasing, there are numerous grammatical errors. The various characters act totally illogically and inconsistently when confronted with the strange creatures, each of which has countless eyes scattered across its body. Zanthar, meanwhile, is off exploring other times and worlds thanks to the invention he developed in the first book in the series, so he's not around to help. The dialogue is filled with nonsensical phrases like "proof is nothing but silly words walking like a drunkard in the night." The creatures are basically smaller than houseflies, but if that's the case, how can the characters tell that they have lots of eyes when looking at them from a considerable distance, in the darkness, in the fog? The novel, his longest ever, is painful to read. The creatures are intelligent aliens looking for a new home. Zanthar eventually helps them find one and there is a remarkably inept attempt to paint them as not being malevolent. His old enemy Fu Cong shows up, inadvertently gets himself duplicated, and the two versions fight to the death. This was so bad it's hard to believe that it's by the same author.
The Bell from Infinity (1968) is only a slight improvement. It opens with a man hearing a phantom bell while visiting a bar on an asteroid. The bell's tones suggest that it comes from beyond infinity and is the instrument of some malign intelligence, although how a simple ringing could be so informative is rather silly. The ringing forces him to dance and it is a contagious form of madness. It also forces the blood to rise to the surface of his body and conveys obscure information about death rites and even secret words to its victims - who are variously human, Martian, and Venusian. He dies while contacting Group Nine, a mixed race group whose job is to suppress the development of superweapons. Group Nine is in the area because of reports that a miner brought a secret cargo to the asteroid recently which they think might be a legendary five foot long diamond reported by various miners over the years. Conveniently, they promptly find that diamond themselves - defying the odds and the laws of dynamics - so another explanation is required. The plotting is sloppy as well. Early on we are told that no human being has ever witnessed the death dance of the Martians, but about halfway through we are told that the man who runs the asteroid colony has seen it before. The secret cargo is another diamond, actually a device left over from a civilization destroyed when the asteroid belt was formed. A cult of Venusians is using its power which could potentially destroy all of the other planets in the Solar System. When all transportation off the asteroid is halted, a group of miners walk out through secret passages to the opposite side - which makes no sense given that there is no food, air, or transportation there - simply so the author can use them to provide information to the good guys, who want to sneak into the colony. And the space traveling Venusians don't know what electricity is! The threat is eliminated, the evil Venusians defeated, and civilization is saved from a fate most never knew threatened them. Williams recaptured some of his sense of wonder in this one, but it's still not a very good book.
Zanthar at Moon's Madness (1968) is rather chaotic. All over the Earth, groups of people have begun spontaneously dancing and then disappear through glass doors that materialize out of nowhere. There are also some strange spheres that fall from the sky whose nature is initially unknown. Zanthar is part of a group exploring the moon and he finds a city of mutant women who hate men. There are also people who can walk through walls and, naturally, Zanthar's nemesis Fu Cong is back to make more trouble. Williams suggests that the universe we perceive is not the real one, or at least not all of the real one, and this vague blend of mysticism and quantum physics is pervasive in his late work. The moon women have mutated and live for thousands of years. Fu Cong gets thwarted and the moon women become somewhat reconciled with males. The story has a comic book feel throughout and even the villains - Fu Cong included - are really not all that villainous. Williams was to bring Zanthar's adventures to a close in his next book.
Zanthar at Trip's End (1969) was no improvement. Fu Cong has a new discovery, a kind of mental wind that blows people out of their bodies and carries them off to some other plane of reality. Zanthar figures out what is going on and who is responsible and sets out to save the world once again. Along the way, his two assistants are captured - again - and have to fend for themselves in a strange environment until they can be rescued. The metaphysical wanderings are frequent and annoying. Despite the title, this was clearly not meant to be the final book in the series - Fu Cong escapes once more - but either Williams never completed them or the publisher rejected them. This was also his final book for Lancer and the last few books of his career were split among three different publishers.
When Two Worlds Meet (1970) contains two previously collected stories, plus four never previously in book form, all set on Mars. The first and longest of these is "When Two Worlds Meet" and it introduces some elements that Williams later reworked in King of the Fourth Planet. A scientist is posing as a humble electrician in an attempt to discover the secret of Martian technology which is so powerful that Earthmen are allowed on that planet only on sufferance. A woman unwisely ventures into forbidden territory and puts his plan in jeopardy. With the aid of some rebellious slaves, he escapes with some of the technology but an otherwise good story is marred by the contrived ending in which he comes up with three new inventions to save them in a matter of a couple of days. In "Aurochs Came Walking" a man tries to ferret out the secrets of lost Martian technology despite the animosity of a local witch doctor. "On Pain of Death" is a rather over long piece about humans trapped in a Martian artifact. "The Sound of Bugles" features a Martian race that has the ability to mentally create matter out of nothingness in whatever form they desire. It's the best story in the collection. Williams' work from the 1950s is almost always better than his later efforts.
Beachhead Planet (1970) opens with a helicopter full of tourists being shot down by an unlikely two headed alien creature lurking in an abandoned mine near a renovated ghost town. The hero is John Valthor, a scientist who is virtually a clone of Zanthar from the earlier series, which raises suspicions that this was a modified version of a rejected novel. There are even two assistants who closely resemble Zanthar's crew. They are concerned that aliens will arrive on Earth and represent themselves as benevolent while hiding a secret aggressive agenda. The aliens come from other realities rather than other planets. There is a strong theme of mysticism in this novel as well, but it is an inept, implausible, and poorly constructed story that is more talkative than adventurous and never engages the reader even remotely.
Now Comes Tomorrow (1971) is also pretty dreadful. In the not too distant future, a new fatal disease has begun to spread. Cindy Northcott is diagnosed with it and given three months to live, although an alternate possibility is cryogenic freezing until a theoretical cure is discovered. At the same time, an indigent man has visions of a kind of superhuman force that exists within human consciousness and a scientist obsessed with cheating death wonders if there might be a possibility of cheating it. Northcott and various others eventually are revived in a future world where humans have transcended their old forms and habits. This one is nearly unintelligible. Curtis books did not last long and I always suspected that they never even read the manuscripts they published. Williams would also send them his rambling autobiography, Love Is Forever, We Are for Tonight, which they also published as a science fiction novel even though it is clearly nonfiction.
Seven Tickets to Hell (1972) was part of the short lived Frankenstein Horror series, which wasn't a series and didn't involve Frankenstein. The narration goes back and forth between present tense and past tense narration, probably not purposefully but simply because Williams forgot he was trying to write in present tense. It also occasionally switches to second person narration, which is even more bewildering. The story involves a narcotics agent who stumbles into an occult mystery which encompasses ancient gods, the living dead, and giant worms tunneling through the Earth. The plot makes no sense, the writing is dreadful, and this is easily his worst book.
Sinister Paradise (2010) was the first of two posthumous collections. The first story is "The Lost Warship." It is only significant because it may be the first story in which a warship is displaced in time, antecedent of "Hawk Among the Doves" by Dean McLaughlin, the movie The Final Countdown, the works of Taylor Anderson, and others. A World War II battleship passes through a fault in time and ends up in prehistory, but almost immediately sights mysterious, advanced aircraft. They find a malevolent city of humans who have developed aircraft and other wonders but have yet to discover the wheel! Against expectations, they don't find the way back to the present. One dies but the other discovers that there are two rival superhumans, brothers, and that one is good and one is evil. It turns out one of the searchers is the hidden superman, who altered his own memories, which is a clever but not plausible conclusion. "Be It Ever Thus" is a very minor piece about a group of alien children on a tour of conquered Earth. "Thompson's Cat" is about space travelers who find a depopulated planet, then have to solve the mystery of a deadly plague. The title story is about a mysterious island that is only intermittently visible and which is populated by castaways from various places. The island is also home to a giant predatory bird.
Time Tolls for Toro (2014) reprints two stories from To the End of Time, the title story plus "When the Spoilers Came," but the rest were previously uncollected. "Time Tolls for Toro" is a rather hectic story about a gangster who kidnaps a scientist who invented the first time machine in order to escape from the police. Cause and effect are a bit confused along the way. "Find Me in Eternity" was potentially an interesting piece about a man who encounters his immortal ancestor by chance. The set up just doesn't work. The immortal is mistaken for the younger man when he is in an accident and hospitalized, but how would the hospital have known to call the younger man's wife? He wouldn't have had identification linked to her or with her address, and no matter how close the physical resemblance, she would not have been fooled once he regained consciousness. And if he's been so secretive about his longevity, why does he blurt out the whole story to the protagonist without prompting? And if he ages only one year for every thirty, why wasn't something noticed when he was a child? When the rich, elderly man visits the lab where they're studying the older man, he recognizes him as someone he knew decades earlier. But if that's the case, and since he is a frequent visitor, why didn't he previously notice that the protagonist looks exactly like him as well? "The World of Reluctant Virgins" opens with what appears to be the first landing on the moon, but the astronauts discover an underground colony of humans who settled on the moon in 1887, thanks to the existence of abandoned cities beneath the surface. The surprise is that the secret of longevity exists on the moon, but it also causes sterility.
"The Soul Makers" takes place during an apocalyptic world war. Robot brains have been developed but for some reason they cannot be compelled to kill humans. An investigation is launched when several robots go missing and eventually we discover that humanity is doomed by radiation and the robots are creating a civilization that may be able to bring humanity back to life when the radiation has died away. "The Diamond Images" is a familiar Williams story. Rapacious men from Earth try to loot a temple on Venus and discover the Venusians have extraordinary powers. "The Metal Martyr" is a very minor story about a robot that thinks it's a man. Two men try to track down a man with more than human powers in "Danger Is My Destiny." They believe he is behind a staged death and assume that he is hiding from some unknown enemy. A boy who could walk through walls turns out to be an alien in "The Way Out." "The Man from Space" is the weakest in the book. A cab driver is secretly helping a clandestine alien invasion, but the aliens aren't what he expects. Most of the author's better stories had been previously collected so this volume is of marginal interest.
Despite his many faults as a writer, Williams is above average for the pulp SF adventure of the 1940s and 1950s. His reputation began to slip during the 1960s as standards for publication rose and his last few novels were scarcely noticed. He did occasionally evoke an atmosphere of mystery and wonder in his stories, but he usually squandered it by making elementary plotting errors or having his characters launch into awkward speeches. He apparently became interested in mysticism late in his life and his last few novels occasionally feel more like fantasy than science fiction.